Environmentalists praise Snyder’s water plan

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder’s 30-year plan for preserving and promoting Michigan’s lakes, rivers and streams drew praise from the environmental community.

State officials released Tuesday the strategy, titled “Sustaining Michigan’s Water Heritage,” and the 60-page document covers a broad scope of conservation, infrastructure and development topics. That comprehensive approach has been welcomed by officials with the Michigan Environmental Council.

“It’s a strong piece of work and we are eager to work with the department to take advantage of the public comment period to make it even stronger...,” said Chris Kolb, the organization’s president, in a press release. “It’s impossible to overstate how important the Great Lakes and our inland waters are to Michigan’s economy and way of life, so we have to get this right.”

Top issues of concern for the next three decades in the report include algae contamination in Lake Erie, maintaining commercial harbors, cleaning up longtime environmentally contaminated sites and developing underused waterfront areas for recreation and economic activity. In addition, the strategy targets infrastructure improvements — a big-ticket item that will undoubtedly pose funding problems for communities across the state.

State officials are proposing the creation of a “water fund” to help municipalities generate the money necessary to move ahead on those issues. The makeup of that fund, however, is still nebulous.

“We're going to put a group together to really try and work through the issues related to the fund,” said Jon Allan, director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, earlier this week. He noted the goal is not to create a single state fund that simply pays for projects.

“We have some historic bond funds with some remaining money in them, but those won't last forever,” Allan said. “The fund is really looking at building capacity over time to be able to maintain the (water) systems that we say we love.”

Developing details will be key moving forward, said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“We are encouraged to see the governor prioritizing protections for the Great Lakes and Michigan’s clean water,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The vision released today is a strong step forward, and we look forward to seeing a more concrete plan of action to turn that vision into reality for the Great Lakes State.”

Release of the document caps two years of work by several state agencies including the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Economic Development Council. The priorities and actions called for are the results of meetings hosted with shareholders across the state over that period.

Now, state officials intend to reconnect with those groups to take feedback on their work. Allan said officials want to make sure the concerns of groups were properly represented.

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